Swimming is a tough sport. It requires every muscle in the body to move quickly with perfect coordination. Additionally, swimmers require dedication, discipline and hard work—even more so if you have a physical disadvantage.
Twelve years ago, when Shridhar Malagi, who was then in Class 1, was returning from school in an auto, he met with an accident, and doctors had to amputate his left hand.
He eventually returned to school but was extremely dejected. “I was feeling down and out. We were poor and could not afford any special school. My father works as an assistant in a factory and mother a maid,” he told The Hindu.
The despondent young boy hanging around a swimming pool was spotted by Umesh Kalaghatagi, a swimming coach, who trains children at the JNMC swimming pool, and the Rotary Sports Centre. He asked Shridhar if he wanted to swim.
While Shridhar was initially hesitant, he brought his parents to meet the coach the following day. There has been no turning back and has not missed a single day of training since that fateful day. In his para swimming career of over five years, Shridhar has won 27 medals at national events.
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Simran Gaundalkar, all of 14, also has a similar motivational story. She has Achondroplasia—dwarfism caused by a genetic disorder that stunts growth. If that wasn’t enough, neighbours and schoolmates teased the young girl about her condition.
Simran’s parents, however, were supportive. They sent her to Belagavi to study in a regular school. She informed The Hindu that coach Kalaghatagi spotted her and decided to train her. Simran has been training since she was in Class 2, and never thought she would come to love swimming.
Today, Simran has an impressive two dozen medal tally, from national and international events, the most recent being two medals at the recently held World Dwarf Games in Canada.
The two athletes have beaten severe odds, to bring laurels to the country. Befittingly, they were felicitated by R Ramachandran, the CEO of Zilla Panchayat, who also promised help to the swimmers and their coach, Mr Kalaghatagi with their sponsorship hunt, and try to provide them with other assistance, to help them follow their dreams.